Diligence over sloth. Righteousness over wickedness. Generosity over stinginess. Those are the three biggest themes I’ve found in Proverbs connecting wisdom to worldly wealth. Do something, do it right, and be generous. Not too far from what Dave Ramsey preaches. How is it, then, that you can complete his 7 Baby Steps and still be a fool? Because that's exactly what Jesus called a man who completed Financial Peace University 2,000 years before Dave wrote it.
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops?’” (Luke 12:16,17) His solution? “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” With enough saved for the rest of his life, he planned to “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (Luke 12:19) And God called him a fool.
At first blush, you have to ask, “how is this man a fool?” What he accomplished looks a lot like my retirement plan. Just replace the big barns with an S&P 500 Index Fund and real estate, and you’ve got me. Or Dave. Or anyone else who completed his plan.
Why, then, is this man a fool?
Because he was working for the wrong thing: for how fast he could acquire enough to waste the rest of his life on himself. Ultimately, he was working for the wrong Master: Money. Jesus made it clear that you can’t serve both God and Money (Matthew 6:24). If Money is not your master, why would you quit serving just because it says you can?
As Christians, we aren’t working for money. We never were. We are working to hear from our true Master, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21) As Christians, we know that through faith in Jesus Christ, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3a) So we already have all we need, but this is our starting point, not the end.
So what are you working for? Peter goes on to give the best answer I’ve found in all the Scriptures.
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. … For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”(2 Peter 1:5-7,10-11)
It is easy to be so immersed in the fallen world that we miss the purpose of wealth and why God gave it to us. Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” (Luke 12:48) Why then do we think, “To whom much is given, nothing is expected”? Why think, “Lucky me! I won. I’m done!” like the rich man with the big barns?
If this is where “live like no one else” takes you, then Jesus’ next words to the rich man are for you:
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores things up for himself but is not rich toward God”
Why was the rich man a fool? He either had no idea what his seed was good for, or he had no intention of doing with it what God wanted.
There are only three things you can do with seed: eat it, store it, or plant it. You eat what you need, store enough for the eventualities of life, but the only way you can get more is to plant it; seeds are surprisingly similar to money. And this man, though he had a lot of it, intended to waste its potential by doing nothing.
Don’t think that the only sins accompanying wealth are “sins of commission,” like theft, swindling, greed, and idolatry (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). “Sins of omission” are just as great. James makes it clear, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17) Empirically, sins of omission tend to get overlooked, because there is nothing to observe. Yet they are not overlooked by God. He sees what others don’t.
Like in Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite mein, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”(Matt 25:41-46)
There is a battle raging around the world between the “haves” and “have nots.” But I don’t think God sees it that way. With God, I think it is, and has always been, between the “haves” and “does nots.” He has already given you all you need? What are you going to do with it?
Imagine how disappointed the rich man would be with the rewards God offers those who serve him well. Like the servant who grew one mina (about three months’ wages) into 10. “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.” (Luke 19:17) Clearly this reward is a disappointment to anyone trying to parlay financial success into a self-centered life: the servant’s reward was more responsibility, rather than less! Or consider the servant who grew five talents (about $5,000) into 10 (that is, $10,000). “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” (Matthew 25:21)
Jesus isn’t asking you to be a workaholic. He simply has something better in mind for those who make the most of what he’s given them: eternal treasures. “So if you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11)
Don’t let your investment success sidetrack what you are working for. We aren’t working for money. We are working for “Well done!” Just one penny invested at 10% will grown into $400 billion in 329 years, well beyond the richest man on earth. Anything invested for eternity is worth more than everything here.
God created us in His image and gave us the responsibility to rule over the earth—not as the world does, through “might makes right”—but like Jesus did, as a humble servant. Often times, this will involve money. So if God has given you wealth, step up and take responsibility for it. To seek first the kingdom and His righteousness.
If you really want to live like no one else, remember what are you working for.
John Thornton is the L.P. and Bobbi Leung Chair of Accounting Ethics at Azusa Pacific University, and author of Jesus’ Terrible Financial Advice: Flipping the Tables on Peace, Prosperity, and the Pursuit of Happiness.